Having a background in Graphic Design with some knowledge of bookmaking and letterpress, and being an avid reader, I have a great love for the book as a physical object. As an Interaction Designer, I also have a deep appreciation of the advantages of the digital medium. These two factions of my personality collided today with the release of Amazon’s digital book, named Kindle.

My first impression was a poor one, as I don’t particularly care for the industrial design of the device. With the full qwerty keyboard, it seems like there are an awful lot of buttons. It’s very angular, constructed of white plastic, making it seem impersonal—sterile, like a medical device.

There are aspects of the interface that I do appreciate. The inclusion of next and previous page buttons on both sides of the device is smart, but even more thoughtful is the fact that the next button on the right side is significantly larger than the previous button. Likewise, the previous button on the left side is larger than the next button. That said, the fact that the buttons run the full height of the display makes it appear easy to accidentally turn the page.

I have to question the method for selection of items on the screen. The device includes a small scroll wheel that allows the user to move the selection up and down the page. While a scroll wheel is a tried-and-true method of interaction, it is curious that the selection indicator does not display within the content screen. There is a separate bar just to the right that displays the indicator. This separation seems disjointed and pointless.

Call me spoiled, but having been in possession of an iPhone for over a month, I don’t want to interact using a scroll wheel. I want to tap directly on the screen to make selections, and I want to drag my finger across the screen to flip pages. Apple’s touch and gesture based UI made the Kindle seem out-dated and uninspired before it even shipped.

Amazon has done some smart things in the design of the surrounding service. The Kindle uses cellular communication, rather than WIFI, so the ability to purchase and download new content is accessible anywhere. On top of that, they aren’t saddling the customer with a monthly service plan or contract of any sort. The wireless networking is included in the price of the device. They allow you to read the first chapter of any book before you buy. I can imagine the device prompting you upon completion of a novel to go ahead and purchase the sequel. And it isn’t just for books. It is possible to subscribe to some newspapers and magazines, which are automatically delivered.

They made some questionable decisions as well. The device will allow you to view blogs, but only a small set that Amazon has provided access to. This involves an extra fee. Additionally, you can place your own documents on the device, but you can only do this by sending them in email to Amazon, who converts them into their propriety format and allows you to download them. This also requires a small fee.

I suppose a grayscale display makes sense for text-only books, but it seems to me that for magazines, newspapers, and blogs, color is desirable. Furthermore, the device doesn’t sport a backlight, so reading in dim lighting requires and additional book light.

Of course, there are great advantages to digital products. The Kindle will allow you to search your content, as well as make annotations without defacing the book. Multiple bookmarks can be placed, and it automatically remembers where you left off.

Finally, it’s a bit pricey. At $400, it ought to be comparable to my iPhone, but it seems clunky by comparison. I can’t imagine myself getting the same enjoyment from it that I do from ink on paper.

Regardless, it is an interesting piece of technology, and it is another small step in the evolution of the “printed” word. I’ll be eager to see how it fairs in the market. 

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